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:: The Rule of Reason ::

:: Monday, February 22, 2010 ::

Islam is the Enemy 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 11:12 AM

I read an interesting Spiked column on the current "offensive" in Afghanistan. The author makes several valid points. He all but says that if the war is fought, not to achieve victory, but to attain some altruistic "hearts and minds" goal, then it is pointless to even wage the war.

As the NATO forces prepared to launch their latest doomed offensive to defeat an invisible enemy while winning over hostile hearts and minds, a British lieutenant colonel was quoted as saying, somewhat tactlessly, ‘We are going into the heart of darkness’.


Tactlessly? “The heart of darkness” (a reference to Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness) is ultimately not what Mick Hume alludes to, “an occupation without purpose, a dangerous military offensive without goals, a war without causes but plenty of casualties.” Rather, it is to the enveloping, logical darkness of acting from selfless, altruistic motives. In war, as well as in peace, as a nation’s policy or as a personal one, the object of selflessness and altruism is to sacrifice a value for a non-value, to elevate mediocrity as a means of razing shrines. (See Ellsworth Toohey’s speech on the means and ends of altruism wedded to collectivism in Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, for clarification on that issue.)* It is to seek no gain, not even a national security one. In this instance, it is to elevate ourselves in the eyes of semi-literate brutes and world opinion.

If waging the war is a legitimate action (as defeating Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan was), why is a "Just War" (one that conforms to the “Just War” theory) centrally linked with befriending an enemy population not deemed to be legitimate, unless it's waged from altruistic motives? How can one win the "hearts and minds" of a population that is still morally, culturally, and epistemologically in the Dark Ages? And even if the population is somehow "befriended," what is the likely longevity of such an accomplishment? What is to stop it from reverting to type, that is, from regressing to its pre-befriended, culturally stagnant state?

One of the major flaws of especially American strategy in Afghanistan is evading the fact that it is not so much the Taliban our military is fighting, but Islam itself. Even if we managed to wipe out the Taliban and al-Quaeda, Islam would remain in the culture. Islam is at its core anti-Western, anti-reason, anti-all pro-life values. For example, what guarantee did we ever have that Iraq would not revert back to some form of Islamic law or a corrupt regime? Well, look at the government there. We expended lives and treasure there -- thousands of lives and billions of dollars -- for what? So that charlatans, non-entities, and mediocrities can vie for power?

Yes -- and democratically, too. We believe in “democracy” -- not individual rights -- and if the Iraqis vote themselves a mongrel, semi-secular, semi-religious government, who are we to judge? After all, it was the “will of the people.”

Would the same thing happen in Afghanistan? Of course. The only alternative, according to “Just War” strategists, is permanent occupation to ensure “stability.” Favorably explicating General Stanley McChrystal’s current military policy and comparing it with the British experience, Max Boot, of the Council on Foreign Relations, concludes:

What Gen. McChrystal realizes, in effect, is that we need to create our own Robert Warburtons. If his experiment succeeds, future commanders can build on the precedent to provide the kind of cultural and linguistic skills that we will need to win the long war against Islamic extremists.


What are McChrystal’s objectives? His Harvard thinking shows through here:

“The biggest thing is in convincing the Afghan people,” General McChrystal said in Istanbul, where he joined Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to brief NATO allies just before the offensive began.

“This is all a war of perceptions,” General McChrystal said. “This is not a physical war in terms of how many people you kill or how much ground you capture, how many bridges you blow up. This is all in the minds of the participants.”


In short, our forces in Afghanistan are commanded by a degree-carrying Kantian. It’s all in your head, you know, what you think “victory” is. War, according to this policy, should be nothing more than armed social work to convert the Patagonians, or the Iraqis, or Afghanis to bring them “stability” and to ourselves self-sacrificing brownie points.

However, what is in the minds of the Taliban? The kind of victory erased from the mind of General Stanley McChrystal.

Can we blame President Barack Obama for his lukewarm "war strategy," if it can be called a strategy at all? Yes. Although he is more focused on waging war against American liberties, not against any foreign threat, his Afghanistan policy, in fact, is simply an application and extension of his assault on American liberties, which he does not value and has demonstrated he is willing to sacrifice. Pundits have come close to the truth when they refer to Obama’s Mideast and Afghanistan policies as “Bush II.” I would call it a policy “aggressive appeasement,” one which now straddles two administrations.

Former president George W. Bush, the hand-holder of Saudi kings and host to regular Ramadan dinners at the White House, set the moral tone of this ten-year war of attrition after 9/11. Islam, he insisted, is a "religion of peace." Obama is of the same mind. Read his Cairo speech. Obama is faced with a threat that did not exist in Bush's time, or at least it is a threat that has grown since then, which is Iran's nuclear-weapons program, which Obama refuses to act on or to permit Israel to eliminate. Obama, like George Bush and his father, former president George H. W. Bush, believes in sacrifice to attain sacrificial ends. Sacrifice of values is the touchstone of moral purity and worth.

I raise this issue because our current Afghanistan strategy is bound to fail, regardless of whatever military gains we might make. To ensure that the Taliban and al-Quaeda don't resurge and become another force that could threaten the West, the U.S. would need to apply a "cleansing" policy to the country, similar to the de-Nazification program in Germany and General MacArthur's de-militarism policy in Japan (to eradicate all sources of Nihon gunkoku shugi), so forcefully described by John Lewis in his lectures and book, Nothing Less Than Victory. Essentially, the country would need to be "de-Islamicized."

Can we credibly expect that to happen, even if our policymakers acknowledged the inherent bellicosity of the Islamic creed? No. More progress would be made if we attempted to eradicate Voodooism from Haiti. We "respect" Islam. We go out of our way to not offend Islamic sensibilities -- not only in the field, but right here at home.

Instead, our policy advocates “containment” of a nuclear-armed Iran and the pacification of hostile populations with candy and American-built dams and hospitals. Of a war-fighting policy of avoiding civilian casualties at the expense of the lives of American troops.

Would we have won WWII if we had treated Nazi ideology and doctrine, and Japanese militarism, as just examples of "diversity in political and cultural thought,” immune from moral judgment? No. The West, and especially the U.S., has got to stop looking at Islam as simply a religion to "respect," and treat it as the political-theocratic menace it is. Islam, by its doctrinaire nature, is implacable. It cannot be “peaceful” and bellicose at the same time. It must be so thoroughly discredited it would never show its head again. If that leaves Muslims the world-over disillusioned or angry, so be it. Why should we care what they think or even think of us?

Our military forces should be allowed to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan regardless of their location, proximity to civilians, or any other “extenuating” circumstance. Our forces should be regularly reminded that Islamic “extremists” do not reciprocate such “gentlemanly” rules of war. They should be reminded of 9/11, when nearly 3,000 American and other civilians perished on our own soil, with more to come, if we do not destroy states that sponsor terrorism.

Short of that, the U.S. should just abandon Afghanistan and Pakistan and leave them to their tribal feuds and internal squabbles, but act militarily, if we are threatened, with overwhelming force. Winning the “hearts and minds” of those two countries is a lose-lose proposition, which it is intended to be. That cannot be over-emphasized. That is altruism in war, regardless of Colin Powell’s, General McChrystal’s, or Obama’s assurances. The “shrine” of America can be razed by bleeding it to death in a “war of appeasement” -- for the appeasement of zeroes.

Unless that is grasped and acknowledged, in the long run, no amount of victory in Afghanistan is going to matter.

*The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. 1943. New York: Plume-Penguin Centennial Edition, 2005, pp. 663-670. The speech can be found in Chapter XI, Part XIV, Howard Roark.

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:: Monday, February 15, 2010 ::

Obama the Pseudo-Narcissist 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 8:40 PM

Near the end of her September 1960 article in Human Events, “J.F.K. — High Class Beatnik?” about the keynote speech presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy delivered at the Democratic National Convention, Ayn Rand warns:

When a man extols “leadership”—leadership without direction—leadership without any stated purpose, program or ideal—leadership for the sake of leadership—you may be sure that you are hearing the voice of a man motivated by power-lust. It is specifically the power-lust of the Fascist variety, because the Communists promised their victims an alleged social ideal, while the Fascists offer nothing but loose talk about some unspecified form of racial or national “greatness.”


Rand dissects the meaning of Kennedy’s non-promises to lead the country “somewhere,” but leaves the question unanswered, because Kennedy had not yet won the election and begun to implement his economic and political policies. Once he was in office, she later concluded that he was indeed a fascist in her seminal article, “The Fascist New Frontier,” which her publisher, Random House’s Bennett Cerf, refused to carry in a volume of her essays.

In 1962 the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand delivered a talk entitled "The Fascist New Frontier" (reprinted in the recent collection "The Ayn Rand Column"), an analysis of President Kennedy's New Frontier social and economic programs. When she offered a written version of the talk as part of a projected volume of essays, her publisher, Bennett Cerf, "absolutely hit the roof." As he related in his memoir, "At Random," "I called her and said we were not going to publish any book that claimed Hitler and Jack Kennedy were alike." Rand refused to back down, and soon thereafter ended her association with Random House.


Barack Obama, however, all throughout his campaign for the presidency, uttered progressive promises and has attempted to keep them. His masked, crudely nuanced rhetoric, once it was deciphered by anyone who wished to know what he was actually saying, is textbook socialist rhetoric. In possibly only one instance did he give the game away, when in 2008 he assured Joe the Plumber Wurzelbacher that he didn‘t want to tax Joe but it might be necessary.

"My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re gonna be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."


As the news media and sympathizers like Bennett Cerf were awed by Kennedy’s rhetoric and non-promises, today sympathetic pundits and newscasters see the words and refuse to concede that socialism is precisely what Obama had promised. The news media largely explained away the “spread the wealth” statement in such a manner that one could have fallen asleep reading the interpretations.

Obama’s folksy style of delivery, with or without a teleprompter, is far removed from JFK’s “high class” delivery of the same sentiments. JFK was anti-communist because he apparently did not agree with communism’s version of sacrifice, leadership, and national “greatness.” He had one wholly his own (which Rand ultimately described in the essay rejected by Random House). And, only when he was in office, like JFK, did Obama lay his cards on the table and fan them out for all to see.

The New York Times ran an article on February 8th, “For Obama, Nuance on Race Invites Questions.” Here is reported the disappointment of the Congressional Black Caucus and prominent black spokesmen with Obama’s alleged failure to pass special legislation aimed at alleviating suffering among the country’s black population.

On Capitol Hill, members of the Congressional Black Caucus have expressed irritation that Mr. Obama has not created programs tailored specifically to African-Americans, who are suffering disproportionately in the recession. In December, some of them threatened to oppose new financial rules for banks until the White House promised to address the needs of minorities.


The Times article — without bothering to enquire on how or why blacks are “suffering disproportionately” — quotes prominent blacks pro and con on whether Obama should focus on black issues and push for legislation that favors blacks or push for legislation that would affect “all people.” This is not the issue here. The issue is Obama himself. Dorothy Height, the 97-year-old chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, having counseled “every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt on matters of race, made a plea in a recent interview for Mr. Obama to be left alone.”

We have never sat down and said to the 43 other presidents: ‘How does it feel to be a Caucasian? How do you feel as a white president? Tell me what that means to you,’ ” Dr. Height said. “I am not one to think that he should do more for his people than for other people. I want him to be free to be himself.”


“His people” and “other people“? These references bespeak a career of thinking in terms of race, of contentious tribes. So Dr. Height was unable to ask the more significant question: Does Obama even have a self to “be himself"? A self, after all, is something one creates independently of what others think, say, or do, irrespective of the culture, of one’s race or gender, of one‘s ancestors, of one‘s immediate family. It is a measure of independent thought, a consequence of one's own value-judgments. To judge by his two books, Obama has been other-oriented all his life. Such a person has no "self-esteem" because there is very little self to begin with. His "self-esteem" is overwhelmingly dependent on what others think of him, and can't correctly be called "self-esteem" at all. To claim that Obama has “high” or “low” self-esteem would be as much an error as calling a Jackson Pollack canvas a “work of art.”

Yet, some critics, supporters and opponents alike, accuse Obama of being narcissistic. There is a certain narcissism apparent in the character of his public appearances and utterances.

But is he guilty of being a narcissist? He is certainly not an egoist. In every one of his public statements, expressions of self-interest and the morality of self-interest are conspicuously absent. Obama’s chief sales pitch has been from the beginning his selflessness, echoing JFK’s imperative of asking of what he can do for his country, and not what his country can do for him. Well, the country elected him, and now the peril of his selflessness can be measured by what he is doing to the country, not for it.

One of the best Socratic expositions on selflessness is to be found in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, in the discussion between Howard Roark and Gail Wynand on Wynand’s yacht about the essences of selfishness and selflessness.*

Roark tells Wynand that men who seek the approval of others, do so

“At the price of their own self-respect. In the realm of greatest importance — the realm of values, of judgment, of spirit, of thought — they place others above self, in the exact manner which altruism demands. A truly selfish man cannot be affected by the approval of others. He doesn’t need it.”


Second-handers, Roark tells Wynand,

“have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: “Is this true?’ They ask: ‘Is this what others think is true?’….You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness...Second-handers have no sense of reality.”


Earlier in their exchange, leading up to the role of altruism in selflessness and collectivism, Wynand observes,

“[Ellsworth] Toohey would tell me that this is not what he means by altruism. He means I shouldn’t leave it up to the people to decide what they want. I should decide it. I should determine, not what I like nor what they like, but what I think they should like, and then ram it down their throats. It would have to be rammed, since their voluntary choice is the Banner. Well, there are several such altruists in the world today.”


This is one of the few indirect references to the dictators and political power-lusters of The Fountainhead’s time, ranging from FDR to Hitler and Mussolini.

Roark and Wynand discuss the fate of Peter Keating as an instance of “actual selflessness.“ Keating is one of two of Rand’s principal selfless men. The other is Ellsworth Toohey, one of newspaperman Wynand’s star critics and inveterate schemer after power over men, one of them being the willing pawn, Keating. When Roark says that actual selflessness is what is destroying the world, Wynand asks:

“The ideal they say does not exist”
“They’re wrong. It does exist — though not in the way they imagine…Look at Peter Keating.”
“You look at him. I hate his guts.”
“I’ve looked at him — at what’s left of him — and it’s helped me to understand. He’s paying the price and wondering for what sin and telling himself that he’s been too selfish. In what act or thought of his has there ever been a self?”


Peter Keating was without question not a narcissist. A narcissist at least has a self.

What is it to be narcissistic? More than being a species of vanity — which itself must be distinguished from legitimate pride and self-respect — narcissism at least presumes that one is aware of one’s identity. It is seeing some value in an actual, real aspect of oneself — a demonstrable skill or ability, physical beauty, and the like. It must be real but is the object of exaggerated absorption by oneself, exaggerated in that it becomes an irrational obsession to the exclusion of all other concerns. Pride can be a virtue, but narcissism is an irrational fascination. It could be called a neurosis. It could also be partly “other-oriented.”

Obama is simply a more successful Peter Keating, one of the “secondhand lives“ in The Fountainhead. Whereas Keating's mother pushed her son into a more "prestigious" and possibly more lucrative career (architecture), Obama's mother was a communist ideologue who raised her son to be one, as well, and his having communist mentors as tutors simply ensured that he would have no personal values (other than conventional ones, such as basketball; it may be significant to note that, since assuming office, he has taken up the relatively solitary game of golf). As Keating was guilty of not pursuing his own values (painting, Catherine Halsey), and reaped the consequences, Obama might have had his own values, but never pursued them, never said "no" to his mother.

To judge by his rise from "community organizer" (a low-echelon collectivist) to state senator to U.S. senator to the presidency, Obama can't be "himself" unless he is in the spotlight of approval by others. One could say this about JFK, as well, and to a lesser extent about several of his predecessors. Obama has surrounded himself with advisors who reflect in varying degrees his absence of personal values, his absence of a self. Since it is the natural attribute of men to achieve some sort of efficacy — or proof of it — Obama seeks it in how much power he can impose over those in his immediate coterie and over the entire country — to ram government health care and stimulus packages and cap-and-trade down the throats of the public.

His cabinet and advisors are of the same aspic-like material; they have senses of "self" and power because they are "valued" by someone who has even less "self" than they. Obama himself derives "esteem" from power and the envy of those who do not possess it, but, as Gail Wynand (and Peter Keating) learned in the end, there is no "self" there to appreciate it. Success in legislation (what little there has been of it) brings Obama a transient "glow" of efficacy, then it dies, like a cheap, spent light bulb, and he renews the search for it.

The hallmark of a tyrant or dictator is selflessness, requiring an endless quest to keep reality and perceived enemies at bay, which requires accumulating power over reality — by creating nothing, but becoming a parasite of other men's achievements — by way of power over others — they somehow know the secret of life, and their approval and obedience are necessary to the selfless man‘s survival and sense of security.

Obama the narcissist is illusory. A narcissist can at least see himself in a mirror. Obama sees in a mirror only what other people see. He cannot be “free to be himself,” because he not only has no respect or “concern for facts, ideas, or work,” but he can have no self-respect. The self he may imagine is his own exists solely in the minds of others - the minds of his staff, of his supporters, of the press, who assure him that he is a great man striving to make real great things. He struggles to fill the role. But the “great things” he wishes to accomplish cannot be realized without resorting to coercion and extortion.

His other-oriented self “glows” in the presence of others, but begins to fade the moment he is left alone to “be himself.” Then all he can experience is what is left of himself, the restless, thrashing residue of what self may have once existed before he surrendered it. The self the public sees, however, is but a cloud of swirling gnats that hovers in no particular place.

Obama is one of many “such altruists” in the world today. To call him a narcissist is to pay him a compliment, almost as contradictory a one as calling him the “leader of the free world.”


*The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. 1943. New York: Plume-Penguin Centennial Edition, 2005, pp. 633-636. The dialogue can be found in Chapter XI, Part IV, Howard Roark.

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:: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 ::

Defending Ayn Rand 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 11:04 PM

An interesting and important cultural development -- in the way of two critical skirmishes in the conflict between Objectivism and its mainstream critics, left, right, and fringe -- was the Objectivist and general reader response to a “review” of Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made by noted conservative critic Anthony Daniels, who also writes under the name of Theodore Dalrymple, in The New Criterion, and to another “review,” ostensively of Atlas Shrugged, by a conservative-libertarian critic (for lack of a better appellation), Cathy Young, at Real Clear Politics.

While Objectivist input was overwhelmed by the number of responses from doubters (of Rand and/or of Daniels and Young), pragmatists, certified and vitriolic enemies of Rand and her work, the genuinely curious, the clueless, the sarcastic, and the disgruntled, and by what one commentator called “seminar trolls,” Objectivists put in a strong showing, explicating the philosophy and exonerating Rand of the outrageous allegations about her by the critics.

In both reviews, the authors’ chief subjects were Rand herself, as a means of criticizing Rand and her underlying philosophy of egoism, and not the biography or the novel itself. Both reviewers misrepresented Rand and the novel, and both accused her of having concocted, among other things, a “totalitarian” political philosophy, while at the same time neglecting (or refusing) to examine, except in the most superficial and sarcastic manner, the tenets of Objectivism. Both based their perspectives on what other critics in the past have said about Rand, without demonstrating or exhibiting a first-hand acquaintance with her and her works. Daniels’ article was a review of the notoriously gossipy Heller biography, and not of the fractionally better but no less egregious Jennifer Burns biography, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. A review by Daniels of the Burns biography, however, would have produced the same contemptible litany of exegeses.

Reader responses to the Daniels review, “Ayn Rand: engineer of souls,” have totaled well over two hundred. Faced with the unusual volume of interest, the editor of The New Criterion, Roger Kimball, thought it wise to come to the critic’s defense by publishing an endorsement of Daniels on Pajamas Media, and, because it was of the same snickering, snorting, iconoclastic tone and character as the Daniels review, it, too, has generated over one hundred responses.

Cathy Young’s review has, to date, generated over one hundred. However, this was not her first assault on Rand. “A Rand Revival“ is a warmed-over iteration of her March 2005 “Ayn Rand at 100,” in Reason Magazine: Rand was wrong, and her philosophy is impractical; she had a totalitarian streak, and it shows in her uncompromising philosophy. Like her conservative counterparts, she frets over the “extremism” of Objectivism. After alternately praising and condemning Rand, Young concludes in her Reason “tribute”:

From yet another perspective, Rand can be seen as a great eccentric thinker and writer whose work is less about a practical guide to real life than about a unique, individual, stylized vision, a romantic vision that transforms and transcends real life.


Before repeating from her Reason article her concerns about the Taggart Tunnel disaster and the fate of the passengers, whom she did not believe deserved such an end, Young claims in “A Rand Revival” that

Rand's work also has a darker, more disturbing aspect--one that, unfortunately, is all too good a fit for this moment in America's political life. That is her intellectual intolerance and her tendency to demonize her opponents.


This is in the “tradition” of Rand’s detractors, begun by Whittaker Chambers, an early neoconservative, and Granville Hicks, a communist: to demonize her by painting her as half-human (she had her good points!) and half-gargoyle (she was domineering, nasty, dogmatic, no exemplar of her “extremist“ philosophy, a crypto-fascist, a closet Stalinist, etc.! How can any mature person take her seriously?).

Daniels, who hardly mentions Heller or her biography at all in his article (and misspells her first name), is not on the same page as Young, but on the next one:

Although she wrote in English, and her two most famous books are American in subject matter and location, she remained deeply Russian in outlook and intellectual style to the end of her days. America could take Rand out of Russia, but not Russia out of Rand. Her work properly belongs to the history of Russian, not American, literature—and nineteenth-century Russian literature at that.


Daniels asserts that Rand’s literary and philosophical importance is in the minor Russian “tradition” of Dobrolyubov, Pisarev, and Chernyshevsky, without offering any evidence of those writers’ positions or even explaining who they were. This is inexcusable name-dropping. He repeats the oft-made charge that her literary heroes are “Nietzschean in inspiration.” Furthermore, he asserts,

The only other tradition known to me that shares this unfortunate combination of characteristics is that of the German materialists of the second half of the nineteenth century such as Moleschott and Buchner.


Really? What characteristics were they? And who were Moleschott and Buchner? What did they say? Daniels does not deign to enlighten us. After all, if the reader does not know who those writers were, it must be a sign of his cultural illiteracy for not having glommed the significance of those obscure writers. It isn’t his fault that most readers do not boast degrees in Russian and German studies.

While both critics labor to demonstrate that Ayn Rand is philosophically and literarily insignificant, or at least a cultural anomaly, the response to the Daniels and Young articles, as well as to Roger Kimball’s encomium must have startled the editors of The New Criterion and Real Clear Politics, proving that she is both philosophically and literarily of importance enough that so many readers have something to say about her.

With that, among many of the fine and well-articulated defenses of Rand, I offer one of the best responses to the Daniels article, by “PeterM.”

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE EDITORS AT THE NEW CRITERION

It must now be surely clear to Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball that they erred first in soliciting Anthony Daniels to write such an thoroughly incoherent hit job on Ayn Rand, and then doubly so for publishing such a transparently dishonest smear of Ayn Rand. If Ayn Rand is the “Chernyshevsky of individualism” then the New Criterion has become the National Inquirer of sophisticated public taste. And of course the smears continue in the “comments” section, where several seminar trolls continue to peddle the tiresome and banal talking points from William F. Buckley’s “Anti-Rand Playbook.”

The real story here is not Daniels’ all-too-predictable distortions and lies, nor is it the psycho-autobiographical character of Daniels’ self-revelations. No, what’s most interesting about the Daniels piece is that it represents the final, last gasp attempt by conservatives and neoconservatives to purge Ayn Rand from the “minds and hearts” of millions of ordinary Americans who regard her as America’ greatest defender of freedom, individual rights, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism.

In just the last couple of years, in ways that could only be characterized as eerily similar, the New Criterion, the Weekly Standard, City Journal, and Commentary have all put out a “hit” on Ayn Rand and all basically say the very same thing. It’s as though a small faction of conservative and neoconservative “intellectuals” have agreed that they’ll all borrow (i.e., plagiarize) from the same playbook.

And as Daniels frankly admits, he and all the other conservative Thought Police don’t and can’t understand why Ayn Rand is popular with so many non-intellectual, regular conservatives and libertarians (and even a few liberals). They don’t even try. Their disconnect from the values or ordinary Americans is breathtaking. It should be obvious to all by now that the attacks on Ayn Rand by certain elements within the conservative intellectual movement are motivated primarily by nothing more than fear--and a kind of juvenile fear at that.

In the end, however, it doesn’t matter. Ayn Rand will continue to sell hundreds of thousands of books every year, growing numbers of sophisticated and accomplished intellectuals are taking her very seriously, the Ayn Rand Institute is expanding dramatically its academic programs for high school and college students, there are now over 60 university programs around the country that have courses that include the reading of Atlas Shrugged, and her influence on the grass-roots Tea Party movement is spreading rapidly and deeply.

In the end, it’s much more likely that Commentary, the Weekly Standard, City Journal and National Review will disappear with the rest of the Mainstream before Ayn Rand’s books and ideas will disappear.

Fear not. You see, there is hope after all.

:: Permalink | 24 Comments ::

 

:: Saturday, February 06, 2010 ::

The Renewed War Against Freedom of Speech 

:: Posted by Edward Cline at 11:14 PM

No sooner had the Supreme Court upheld the right of corporations to exercise their freedom of speech, than the ruling was attacked, first by newspapers, pundits, and finally by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address.

Various newspapers and blogsites, including the White House, carry this version of what Obama said:

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that corrects some of these problems.


But, the Baltimore Sun transcript of his speech contains oddly different wording:

It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or Congress. And it's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.


Having watched the speech, and heard Obama speak the first version, it is curious that there are different versions of it floating around the news media. However, be that as it may….

The first part of his statement is confusing. Did he mean that the Supreme Court (finally) showed deference to (or recognition of) the separation of powers by drawing a firm line between government power and the inviolability of freedom of speech? That would seem to be a compliment to the Court, but Obama’s hostility for freedom of speech is too well known. Or was he referring to the necessary restraints placed by the Constitution on executive powers? Hardly. They didn’t stop Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt from demonizing and persecuting anyone who spoke against the wars they oversaw. His statement may be taken as a measure of power-envy.

The “due deference” was his own, a venal expression of a contempt for the separation of powers. His practiced dissimulation worked to get him elected, and then to lord it over Congress to have destructive legislation passed. But his rhetoric and style have lost their “magic.” His election was bankrolled by “powerful interests,” and he knows too well that most Democratic members of Congress do not represent the American people and that, for all their blather about wanting to help Americans, do not have their best interests in mind. He knows, as most of them do, that most Americans oppose his and Congress’s mutual totalitarian agenda.

While it is a badly constructed sentence, the “due deference” statement was an invitation to his allies in Congress to begin a push for some kind of retaliatory legislation that would castrate the ruling and render it impotent.

And as important as the Court ruling was, it did not altogether repudiate the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. As one university blogsite remarked about Obama‘s swipe at the Court and how wrong he was about the ruling:

The impropriety of such a remark shocked scholars and journalists on the left and the right. Not since FDR’s Supreme Court insults has a President challenged judicial authority so publicly. Obama crossed the line in regards to separation of powers, but the most disappointing part of this judicial challenge is that Obama’s charge was inaccurate. First of all, Citizen’s United did not touch or change the early 20th century campaign law that Citizen’s United opponents continuously cite as the basis for their claim that the decision “reversed a century of law”. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and rebutted Obama’s claim that the Supreme Court decision addressed foreign corporations impacting American elections. Federal law and Federal Elections Commission rules regarding foreign financing were left untouched by the Citizen’s United decision.


Obama remarked that the ruling “reversed a century of law.“ He was referring to the incremental reduction of the First Amendment, beginning with the Tillman Act of 1907.

Another chapter was begun in 1907 when Congress passed the Tillman Act, prohibiting national banks and corporations from making contributions in federal elections. The Corrupt Practices Act, first enacted in 1910 and replaced by another law in 1925, extended federal regulation of campaign contributions and expenditures in federal elections and other acts have similarly provided other regulations.


Subsequent regulations, like a steel ball rolling inexorably down a spiral chute, from the unchecked impetus of statism, had to end up regulating when, where, how, and by whom speech could exercised before and during federal elections.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion:

If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech. If the anti-distortion rationale were to be accepted, however, it would permit Government to ban political speech simply because the speaker is an association that has taken on the corporate form.

Although the First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech,” prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is an outright ban on speech, backed by criminal sanctions. It is a ban notwithstanding the fact that a PAC [political action committee] created by a corporation can still speak, for a PAC is a separate association from the corporation. Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy—it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people—political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence.

When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.


Progressivism leaves no right untouched, no absolute principle intact. As politically correct language and “bias-free“ vernacular atomize words and concepts so that they do not “offend” anyone, the ideology of progressivism disintegrates rights and principles into particulars and special exceptions so that no one may claim them as fundamental or universal. The exercise of those rights and the application of those principles must first be vetted and approved by panels of “experts,“ such as the Federal Election Commission.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who was with the majority on the Citizens United ruling, noted the uproar liberals and leftists were raising about the ruling, claiming it will give corporations the power to influence, if not control, elections.

“I found it fascinating that the people who were editorializing against it were The New York Times Company and The Washington Post Company,” Justice Thomas said. “These are corporations.”


A point obviously still lost on The New York Times and The Washington Post. Thomas also noted that the part of the law struck down by the ruling exempted “news reports, commentaries and editorials.“ Newspapers and other publications were the beneficiaries of McCain-Feingold because of some groundless aura or mystique surrounding the press seen by its authors. The Times article was headlined, “Justice Defends Ruling on Finance.” But, the ruling was not about “finance.” It was about the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Still, the Times reported Thomas’s remarks without bias:

Justice Thomas said the First Amendment’s protections applied regardless of how people chose to assemble to participate in the political process. “If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights to speak and the First Amendment right of association,” he said. “If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have that First Amendment right to speak and of association."

“But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” Justice Thomas asked, suggesting that the answer must be the same.

Asked about his attitude toward the two decisions overruled in Citizens United, he said, “If it’s wrong, the ultimate precedent is the Constitution.”


This is thinking in principles.

Not thinking in principles are those who wish to overrule the Supreme Court’s finding. Rallying around Obama’s tattered flag are, among others, Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chuck Schumer of New York, and Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Or perhaps it isn’t even a matter of their choosing to not think in principles, but one of their being, well, slow, or malicious, or both. Call it the Congressional Bronx cheer in answer to a grave Court ruling.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told the committee [the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Schumer] "we may also need to think bigger….I think we need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals," Kerry said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said Tuesday they had introduced a constitutional amendment permitting Congress and the states to regulate the expenditure of funds by corporations engaging in political speech.


Schumer himself said:

"If this ruling is left unchallenged, if Congress fails to act, our country will be faced with big, moneyed interests spending, or threatening to spend, millions on ads against those who dare to stand up to them," Senate Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a hearing of his panel. Schumer said he and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., will propose legislation soon. Two House committees also plan hearings Wednesday on the ramifications of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision.


But…no one is supposed to stand up to an omnivorous Congress? The federal government is not a “big, moneyed interest” that spends, spends, spends on ads and propaganda everywhere one looks? The Tea Parties and town hall meetings of 2009 were not evidence that Americans retained their freedom of speech, and let an unresponsive Congress and the White House know in no uncertain terms that they are not interested in becoming cattle herded by a political elite to the greener pastures of serfdom, or that they are not buffalo to be run off a cliff wholesale, as Western Indians did, so that politicians and special interests (foreign or domestic) can more easily select which of their carcasses can be carved up for food and clothing?

Ideas for Constitutional amendments and nullifying, fiat legislation are gushing forth like rusty water from a broken spigot. The valves and washers of deference, decorum, and caution are shot and the speech regulators can’t help themselves.

In the House, Representative Donna Edwards, Democrat of Maryland, and Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, introduced legislation calling for such an amendment yesterday. Thomas Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, said he plans to file a similar bill in the Senate.

Representative Niki Tsongas, Democrat of Lowell, said yesterday that she would introduce legislation restricting corporations from using government money, such as bailout funds, for political purposes. Tsongas said she would seek to attach the provision to a more sweeping bill being prepared by Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, is working on similar legislation in the Senate.


The Edwards-Conyers amendment reads:

“The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity,” the amendment says. “Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press."


Translation: We don’t care what the Court says about individual rights or freedom of speech. We want to gag corporations. You should know by now that we don’t give a fig about “associations of individuals” speaking through organizations. We want to control who says what, when, and how. Of course, please don’t take this as an abridgement of your freedom of speech.

Or: A can be A and non-A at the same time.

A constitutional amendment is not likely to see the light of day. It would require the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states to ratify it. This could take years, and the Democrats’ days seem to be numbered in both chambers in the months leading up to the mid-term elections. But there are no constraints on Congress’s appetite for passing fiat law and the vindictive manner in which they propose it..

Other ideas are in the offing.

Others, such as Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), are making an appeal for a broader legislative fix, such as passing a public financing program for federal candidates similar to the one in place for presidential elections.

The Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog organization and defender of the McCain-Feingold law, also would like the Federal Communications Commission to ensure access to airwaves by candidates. Broadcasters now must sell time to candidates at the lowest unit rate, but broadcasters can pre-empt those ads if a higher bidder is willing to pay more for the time.

“Airtime sold at the lowest unit rate is generally preemptible, thus forcing candidates to buy the more expensive, non-preemptible time to ensure they reach the targeted demographic. A new statute should ensure that once again the lowest unit rates for candidates are meaningful,” the group wrote Schumer.


On one hand, Durbin is seeking to force taxpayers to further perpetuate both political parties by underwriting a multitude of races of federal office. On the other, broadcasters are to be further denied their property rights by being forced to ensure cheap airtime for candidates to address the public.

Not to be out-done, MoveOn (aka George Soros) has come up with its own unique proposal for a constitutional amendment:

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:

Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.

Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate "preemption" actions by global, national, and state governments.


Justice Kennedy’s reasoning and proofs rolled off of Move.On’s backs like water off a duck‘s back. Corporations are not “human beings” or even “persons,” just menacing entities run by robots. No, money isn’t speech, especially if you can’t afford to buy time on someone else’s soapbox, which should be public property and free anyway, right?. And any future rational decision by the Court or even by the government must be deemed “illegitimate.”

“In a democracy, the people rule,” says Move.On, and corporations should be prohibited from “buying elections.” Corporations, however, staffed by people, do not “buy elections.” People do, when they vote. And they certainly bought a lemon when they “bought” Barack Obama, whose campaign was financed and run by well-oiled non-profit corporations.

And, people “rule” in a democracy only until a tyrant takes over to bring “order“ out of the chaos of mob rule, also known as democracy. MoveOn is deaf to the lessons and advice of the Founders, who were experts on democracy. That is why they created a republic.

A more verbose instance of such sophistry proposing an amendment is offered by an organization called “CallaConvention.org.” Here are its first two provisions:

Congress shall have the power and obligation to protect its own independence, and the independence of the Executive, by assuring, through citizen vouchers or public funding, that the financing of federal elections does not produce any actual or reasonably perceived appearance of dependence, except upon the People. Sophistry

The Freedom of Speech and of the Press shall not be abridged by this Amendment, save that the First Amendment to this Constitution shall not be construed to limit the power of the People to restrict any significant and disproportionate non-party financial influence during the last 60 days before an election, where such influence would reasonably draw into doubt the integrity or independence of any elected official.


“Independence” from what? From the electorate? From the Constitution? From reason and the assertion of individual rights? Going by Congress’s record over the last century, Congress is not so much “independent” as it is removed and exempt from the constraints that define its powers in the Constitution. This draft amendment accurately describes the current state of Congress and the picayune, contextless interpretations of the First Amendment.

Nothing could serve as better incontrovertible evidence of an absence of “due deference” to the principle of freedom of speech than the hostility to it demonstrated by politicians and their ilk at large in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Americans’ only defense against such attacks is to emulate Justice Alito, but instead of mouthing the words silently, they should stand up and shout, “Not true!”

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